There’s a new Dr. Seuss book coming out in the summer, unearthed (fully illustrated, even) from his home. The new book is called What Pet Should I Get? and I find the excitement a little surprising given all the obscure Dr. Seuss books out there that most parents have never seen. This isn’t going to be the next Green Eggs and Ham, although it might possibly be the next Foot Book. But it might also be the next Hunches in Bunches. Some of his obscure books are obscure for a reason.
Anyway! Allow me to point the way to a few volumes of Seuss you might be less familiar with, perhaps with good reason.
I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew
This is the cream of the crop, what I was looking for when I dove into this project: a genuinely excellent, undeservedly obscure classic Seuss book. It has rhyme, meter, plot, amusing illustrations, and a useful life lesson baked in.
The narrator has troubles! Fuzzy, feathered, and nasty little troubles. So he sets out for Solla Sollew, where allegedly they never have troubles (or at least, very few). Of course, the trip is utterly disastrous: he gets exploited by a lazy manager (“This is called teamwork. I furnish the brains. You furnish the muscles, the aches and the pains”), washed away in a flood, drafted abruptly into an army where he’s abandoned by his supposed comrades after being sent up against a pack of Poozers armed only with a pea-shooter, trapped in traffic, and then turned away from Solla Sollew because the one trouble they do have prevents them from opening the gates. He finally returns home, arms himself with a big stick, and decides he’ll handle his troubles himself.
In a sense, this book reminded me of the (non-Seuss) children’s classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Very Bad Day, in which after each bit of misery, Alexander informs us that he’s going to move to Australia. That book’s about the troubles; this one’s about the process of trying to escape them; both wind up with the message that sometimes, all you can do is suck it up and try to handle what life sends you.
I’ll note that I’m not kidding about the big stick. Well, “big bat,” according to the narrator; it sort of looks like a club. There’s a distinct “violence! Violence is the solution!” tone to the ending, which some parents may find off-putting. I suppose if you have a preschooler whose “troubles” are his newly mobile twin siblings, you might not want him solving those troubles with bat. Anyway, I think most kids grasp that the stick can be a metaphor but just as a public service, I figured I would mention it.
McElligot’s Pool and Scrambled Eggs Super
These are both silliness with almost no plot. In McElligot’s Pool the boy (Marco, from Mulberry Street) is fishing in a tiny little puddle, fantasizing about all the wildly exotic aquatic creatures he might somehow catch. In Scrambled Eggs Super, the boy narrator tells his sister about an omelet he made from a bunch of fantastically exotic eggs. Basically, both books were an opportunity for Seuss to draw whimsical creatures and then give them bizarre names. If you like On Beyond Zebra these will probably be up your alley, too.
There are parents who complain about Scrambled Eggs Super on the grounds that it teaches environmental irresponsibility because the kid is stealing eggs from endangered species. I’m going to go ahead and suggest that if you are truly worried about this, you might want to get a grip before your kid is old enough to pick out his or her own books; console yourself in the knowledge that it’s clearly a kid telling tall tales to his sister, and the fact that the Long-Legger Kwong is not on the endangered species list. I’m rather more bothered by the fact that the book talks about Wogs (they’re “the world’s sweetest frogs,” in this case, not humans being referred to with a racial slur, but still).
Hunches in Bunches
The narrator can’t decide what to do; his various impulses (do homework? Visit a friend? Oil his bike?) are personified as goofy Seussian monsters ordering him around.
This one is lesser-known for a couple of reasons. The rhymes don’t run quite as smoothly as in some of his books. But — and this is actually way more of a dealbreaker for most parents I know than the violent implications of the club in Solla Sollew or the environmental disrespect in Scrambled Eggs Super — the words “dumb” and “stupid” get used multiple times. (“I’m not that dumb a dunce,” “And then I heard an Up Hunch laugh, ‘You are a stupid schlupp!'”) If you’re a non-parent, you may be rolling your eyes right now and wondering why I would make fun of the parents who think Green Eggs and Ham will make their kids try heroin but sympathize with the people phobic of the word “stupid.” It’s any three-year-old who hears the evocative phrase “you are a stupid schlupp!” is almost guaranteed to try it out within 24 hours, and there’s very little quite as irritating as hearing siblings scream “stupid!” at each other.
Back when my older kid was six, I once had four kindergartners in my minivan and one of them loudly announce, “I know the bad S-word!” To my relief, she meant the word “stupid.” (The bad f-word was “fat.”) Anyway, if you’re one of the parents who seriously treats the word “stupid” as a swear word, you definitely don’t want to read your kid this book, and even if you’re mellower about it, you might want to avoid it. And, you’re not missing out on all that much; for a better book about a kid dragged randomly from task to task by someone else’s impulsive whims, grab If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or any of the sequels.
I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! And Other Stories
This is so obscure hardly anyone I describe it to even recognizes it; I also think it may be the single worst Seuss book every published. Plot, rhyme, misogyny and poor messaging all in one convenient package!
There are three stories packaged together here. The “I Can Lick 30 Tigers” one involves the Cat in the Hat slowly disqualifying all thirty tigers from the fight he’s offering (they’re too small, they look tired, their fingernails are dirty…) and is reasonably amusing although it lacks a good rhythm and is sort of clunky. “King Looie Katz” has a bunch of cats carrying each other’s tails around until the guy on the end quits (it’s a little reminiscent of Yertle the Turtle, but shorter and not as good).
The longest story by far is “The Glunk That Got Thunk,” a bizarre and unfortunate little horror story. The setup of summoning a horrifying creature that you can’t banish is a staple in TV and movies, but usually the summoning requires at least a little bit of deliberate effort. The narrator’s sister does it just by imagining:
A thing my sister likes to do
Some evenings after supper,
Is sit upstairs in her small room
And use her Thinker-Upper.
She turns her Thinker-Upper on.
She lets it softly purr.
It thinks up friendly little things
With smiles and fuzzy fur.
Of course, she gets tired of the cute little fuzzy things, and decides to speed up her Thinker-Upper and see what she can come up with. She thinks up a Glunk, which is a large, green, stinky, nasty-looking monster (“I have thunked up quite a meth,” the sister says, which is supposed to be a lisp and not a drug reference. Although, if you re-read this and pretend that the Glunk is supposed to be a symbolic representation of amphetamine addiction, the story is somewhat improved.)
The Glunk takes physical form and promptly makes a long-distance phone call to his mother, 9,000 miles away in Texa-Kota-Cutt, costing the family $10/minute as he gives her his favorite recipe. (Gosh, remember when long distance phone calls were outrageously expensive? You must be my age, and not my children’s age.) The sister tries to un-think the Glunk with no success; eventually the brother comes to her rescue and the two are able to banish it together. Chastened, the girl sticks with fuzzy things thereafter.
I have a friend who will make a strong case for the much-better-known Cat in the Hat as a horror story: the Cat invades the house, threatens the fish, makes an enormous mess, etc. But the Cat is drawn in a playful and friendly way; the Glunk is a straight-up scary monster.
There’s also the fact that the Glunk is summoned by the sister, banished by the brother (and the sister, but she’s clearly dependent on him), and that the moral of the story is apparently that girls should stick with thinking about cute and fuzzy things lest they bring disaster to us all. There’s actually quite a bit of misogyny in Dr. Seuss — Mayzie the flighty, irresponsible mother who leaves her egg with Horton the elephant is probably the best-known example, but there’s also Gertrude McFuzz, who nearly kills herself with vanity in one of the other stories in Yertle the Turtle. Most of the better Seuss books are simply devoid of female characters entirely and just don’t ask where baby Sneetches come from. Anyway, this one truly puts Seuss’s weird misogyny in high definition.
Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories
This just came out last year, so even if you’re itching for the truly lost-and-rediscovered Seuss, you still don’t have to wait for Which Pet Should I Get. It’s a collection of four stories, all of which were published in Redbook magazine in the 1950s.
Part of the appeal to this collection is the familiarity of the characters and settings. Horton is the same elephant who sat on an egg and heard a Who; in this short story, he’s conned into giving a greedy bug a lengthy ride with the promise of a share of Beezlenuts. (If there’s one consistent moral to the Seuss books, it’s that you should never, ever pick up a hitchhiker.) Marco, the hero of McElligot’s Pool and To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street tells a tall tale to explain his tardiness at school. A police officer on Mulberry Street “saves the whole town” by swatting a fly, and there’s even an appearance by a Grinch, though seeing the Grinch working as a small-time irritating salesman will probably disappoint most Grinch fans.
The weakness of this book is the amount of text on the page. With some kids, you need pretty frequent page flips to keep their interest, and since this was originally printed in a magazine, there are fewer illustrations for each block of text.
The King’s Stilts
This is seriously old-school Seuss, one of his very first books, and not narrated in rhyme. (The other non-rhyming Seuss books most people are somewhat familiar with are The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Bartholomew and the Oobleck. This one is similar to those, but with a king as a hero rather than antagonist.)
The moral of this story is “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and also causes him to totally shirk his responsibilities, so people who are overly invested in Royal Dignity should suck it.” I thought it was a bit anvilicious but my younger daughter spotted it on my desk and read it, and she thought it was great, so clearly mileage will vary.
The Seven Lady Godivas
So, here we are: the secret, lost Seuss book, the only one to fall out of print (and be brought back, only to fall out of print again). This was Dr. Seuss’s attempt to write a dirty book — kind of. It’s full of the tamest, funniest naked lady pictures you’ve ever seen.
Families that are unbothered by the little boy dangly bits in Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen will find nothing particularly shocking here, other than the fact that the breasts don’t have nipples, the legs are proportioned wrong, and the ladies go naked while rowing boats, riding horses, attending funerals, and climbing out of buildings.
The premise of the book is that there were seven Godiva sisters, all of whom routinely went naked; they lost their father in a tragic horse-riding accident, and honored his memory by swearing not to marry (the seven Peeping brothers) until they could discover some useful facts about horses.
Seuss was apparently trying to make the ladies sexy, but he really did not succeed. Every picture is hilarious. The story is unrhymed and whimsical. It’s hard to find and not particularly cheap used, but if you’re lucky, you might be able to check it out of your local library (that’s where I found it).